Monday, May 31, 2010

Homemade Granola Bars

In college and high school, we used the term "granola" to explain a special kind of person. Someone who wears Birkenstocks exclusively, enjoys herbal tea regularly, and who probably eats organic, free-range, cage-free, sustainable, recycled granola.

Perhaps you would enjoy an example?

I went to high school with this girl...we'll call her Lola*.

*Name changed to protect the truly crunchy. PS- it's not me. This girl was WAY more of a hippy than I've ever been.

Lola marched to a different beat, a beat that no one else heard.

To call my hometown "preppy" doesn't even begin to touch it's yuppy core.

Lola wore linen- everyday. The looser the tunic, the floppy the pants, the better.

Lola was an artist- last I heard she went to RISD where I'm sure she was hugely successful.

But what made Lola truly stand out was the pouch she wore around her neck.

Any guesses what was in the pouch? I'll wait.

Shark tooth? Nope. Lucky penny? Nah. Lock of boyfriend's hair? Getting warmer.

It was her pet sugar glider.

Apparently, she needed to bond with them, so she wore them all day long.

So to review- she was/is GRANOLA.

This is also granola. Making your own granola bars is not only easy, but can make you feel somewhat superior. Who else will take the time to make nutritious power-packed snacks?

Make. Eat. Feel self-righteous.

Preheat your oven to 350. Line an 8x8 glass Pyrex with aluminum foil (or parchment paper if you're fancy) and grease well.

In an extra large mixing bowl, add oats, flour, and salt. Make sure you use the biggest bowl you've got, 'cause this is gonna get messy.

Take out your nut of choice. If it's already chopped small, you can throw them in. If they're whole, you need to take 'em down a notch.

See? Smaller.
Throw the nuts and the chocolate chips into your big bowl.

Stir it all about.

Add in your nut butter (I used sunflower seed butter) and agave.

Here comes the only hard part- you gotta mix this stuff up! Pull on your Pop-Eye pants and stir until really well combined. Once you think you've got it, drizzle on the water & vanilla and STIR SOME MORE.

Dump the sticky mess into your dish.

Pack it in really well. Use the heel of your hand to smush it in and make sure you get the corners. The tighter you pack this, the less of a chance you'll have loose bars.

No one wants loose bars.

See? Tight.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Mmm...golden brown.

Before slicing, you gotta do two things.

Thing #1) Cool the pan on a rack for 30 minutes.

Thing #2) Remove aluminum foil/parchment paper sling from the pan and place in fridge. Cool here at least 1-2 hours- til cold to the touch.

THEN you may slice.

I made my bars snack size and got twelve out of my pan.
Here's the money shot- check out those OATS!

Chocolate Almond Granola Bars
Makes ~12 granola bars

1 2/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup light salted, roasted almonds- chopped
1/3 cup sunflower seed butter
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 x 8 Pyrex dish with tin foil or parchment paper. Grease well.

In a very large bowl, combine oats, flour, salt, chocolate chips, and almonds. Stir to combine. Add sunflower seed butter and agave nectar. Stir well to combine. This will take some arm strength. Drizzle the vanilla and water over the top and stir again to distribute evenly.

Pat the mixture into the pan making sure to really pack it in. Use the heel of your hand to smush it in.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then remove the foil/paper sling and put in fridge to cool an additional 1-2 hours before slicing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

24 Series Finale Dinner

There was a death this week and respect must be paid.

24 is off the air after 8 seasons of heart-pounding drama. I know I'll sleep a little better without the stress, but still, it's sad.

In order to pay homage to Jack "guns don't kill people, Jack does" Bauer, friends that we've been watching all season with came over Monday night for a killer dinner.

One should always start a 24 themed dinner with a lethal champagne cocktail- a favorite of those nuclear-lovin' Russians.

Add 1/2 a shot of apricot brandy to the bottom of the glass. Top with champagne and a drizzle of grenadine. This drink goes a long way in easing the pain of this parting.

*Word to the wise- this ain't for sissies.

Enjoy some Disaster-Area Ranch Dip alongside slices of Deathstar Cucumber and Cherry Grenades. The main course is Car Bomb chili. Recipe forthcoming.

Dry your tears as Jack escapes another brush with death and finish your meal with Blood of a Terrorist Pie.

This was my first whole wheat homemade pie crust and I'm still tinkering with the proportions. Again, recipe forthcoming. This one, however, won good reviews from the Jack Bauer faithful gathered at my house.

What will fill my Monday nights now?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Banana Nut Bites

This banana nut bites are soft and full of banana flavor, kind of like petite banana breads. Sweetened only with agave nectar and real banana, they are a treat you can feel good about eating.

Start by combining whole wheat flour, toasted pecan pieces, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg, vanilla, and agave nectar.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined. With a lot of low-fat baked goods, stirring too much can toughen them.

It's ok if they're a few streaks of flour around the edges.

Grease two cookie sheets. I drizzled a couple of teaspoons of canola oil on each cookie sheet and used a paper towel to fully coat each sheet. This step is necessary because there isn't enough fat in the cookies to keep them from sticking.

Using two table spoons, drop 2 inch scoops of dough onto the cookie sheets. The cookies don't spread much, but ample space is needed for heat circulation.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes rotating the cookie sheets half way through the cooking time. Cool on a wire rack.

Banana Nut Bites

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375. Grease two cookie sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, pecan pieces, and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg, agave, mashed banana, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Drop 2 inch scoops on greased cookies sheets. Bake ~15 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through the cooking time, until golden and cooked all the way through.

Roasted Salmon & Fake Out Risotto

For a simple weeknight supper, try this quick dish. I was going to make a step by step tutorial, but it came together so fast there was hardly time. Pop the salmon into the oven and begin the quinoa. Both should be finished around the same time! Serve with chilled pinot grigio and enjoy!

Roasted Salmon

1/2 cup real mayonnaise
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
~1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 salmon fillets (I used skin-on), fully defrosted if frozen

Preheat oven to 425. Place salmon side by side in an 8x8 glass baking dish.

Whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, and pepper until fully combined. Smear salmon fillets evenly with mixture, making sure to fully cover the fish.

Roast uncovered for 20 minutes. This will result in well done fish. If you want a more tender result, reduce cooking time to 15 minutes.

Fake Out Risotto

1/2 cup quinoa, well-rinsed and drained
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups frozen green beans, cut/snapped into bite size pieces
1/4 cup light sour cream
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
pinch salt

Combine quinoa and water. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until water is absorbed. Add green beans and cover until beans are defrosted and heated through.

Remove from heat. Add sour cream and parmesan. Stir to coat quinoa and green beans. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Give me soft cookies or give me no cookies at all.

This has been my quest- my Atlantis- my Loch Ness Monster.

You gotta have a goal, right?

For years, in vain, I've tried to create bakery style cookies at home. But that thick, dense, yielding texture has eluded me.

And finally, the secret was revealed by the New York Times. This article exposed the simple bakery magic that created the best cookies: refrigerate the dough & let it rest.

Finally, an answer! Deciding to put this knowledge to the test, I whipped up a batch of Martha Stewart's Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies on Friday afternoon. And I did not bake them.

This was the hard part- as any sweets lover can tell you, taking the time to mix up a dough and then NOT bake it is close to sacrilege.

I satiated my craving with a bit of raw dough (I know, I'm a rebel!) and popped the rest into a covered bowl & then the fridge.

There it sat for 24 hours. Then I baked off 12.

Better- the structure was denser. They didn't spread as much. But I knew that a bit more time would yield yet a tastier result.

24 more hours passed. The two-day mark arrived. I preheated to 350. I shaped 12 2-inch cookies. I baked. I waited for 13 minutes. Well, technically 48 hours & 13 minutes.

But who's counting?

Hallelujah! Patience is a virtue that is rewarded with deliciousness. These cookies were perfect. Letting them cool on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes is key. A final cooling on a cookie rack sets the perfection.

Chewy, but soft. Just the slightest hint of a crisp on the edge.

I'm not going to give all the credit to the recipe- I feel strongly that if you held even a mediocre recipe in the fridge for a day or two a better cookie would be born.

I urge all of you to try this test of self-control just once.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Strawberry Buttermilk Scones

I had some leftover strawberries hanging out in the fridge this morning that were crying out to be used before they left the world of edible food. I made some strawberry cupcakes last week and didn't use quite the whole 2 pounds. That recipe still needs some tweaking, but this one is ready for you right now. Simple, satisfying baked goods are within reach- even on a weekday morning.

Since it's just the two of us, I've been trying to halve recipes and make sweet treats on a smaller scale. I give a lot of what we eat away, and I'm sure my neighbors enjoy it, but there's something lovely about just making enough for your family.

Start with whole wheat flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir to combine.

Drizzle in the canola oil.

Stir to create a crumbly mixture.

Pour in the buttermilk and dump in the strawberries.

Stir gently to combine. It's ok if the batter is a bit lumpy.

Using a 1/3 cup as a scoop, create 5 similarly sized scones on your cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes in your 400 degree oven. Remove and cool on a cookie rack.

And that's it! They are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Naturally sweet strawberries dot the pastry.

I ate mine with a bit of salted butter.

If you wanted to make this a simple dessert, you could increase the sugar to 1/2 cup and the strawberries to 3/4 cup. Split and serve these with whipped cream for instant strawberry shortcake! Strawberry season is upon us- enjoy!

Strawberry Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk (or scant half cup regular milk + 1/2 tbsp apple cider or white vinegar/lemon juice)
1/2 cup strawberries, cleaned and diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk to combine. Add the canola oil and stir to create a crumbly mixture.

Add the strawberries and buttermilk and stir until combined. It's ok if it's a bit lumpy.

On a lightly greased cookie sheet, use a 1/3 cup scoop to measure out 5 scones.

Bake 15 minutes. Cool on a cookie rack.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

I grew up in Texas where casseroles reign supreme. Mom was a casserole queen. Maybe because they were easy or maybe because they were just darn good, we ate a whole lot of casserole growing up.

These casseroles included:
*Gringos Tacos (dontcha love the name??)- a sassy combination of ground beef, cheese, Ro-Tel, corn tortillas, and perhaps a few other items that are slipping my mind
*King Ranch Chicken- a rich combination of cheese, corn tortillas, cheese, chicken, and cream o' mushroom condensed soup
*Chicken and Rice- a simple combination of Uncle Ben's rice, cream o' mushroom condensed soup, and chicken breasts

Sometimes I'm embrace my gooey beginnings and bust out a can of cream o' mushroom and make some magic.

Other times I hop on my high horse and make my own cream sauce.

This is one of those high horse times. Making a cream sauce is much like making cream gravy, so I guess I'm not as fancy as I'd like to think.

Let me have my gourmet fantasies.

Cast o' characters: all-purpose flour, fat-free milk, pound o' pasta, solid tuna in water, baby spinach, Parmesan cheese, butter, shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend)

Begin by preheating your oven to 350. Then put on a big pot of water to boil, salt once it comes to a boil, and boil your pasta 'til al dente. Drain the pasta and leave it in the hot pot off the heat. I didn't take a picture of these steps 'cause I'm not into hand holding.

Start your cream sauce while pasta is doing it's thing. Melt three tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium low heat. Once it's melted, add about three tablespoons of flour and whisk vigorously. Clumps are bad! Let this mixture bubble and cook for 2-3 minutes. You don't want that nasty raw flour taste, do you?

(PS- you're actually make a roux here- pronounced ROO- and you can call it that if you want to put on your fancy pants).

Once the roux is cooked, add two cups of milk and, again, whisk vigorously. Clumps are still bad! Once the milk is fully incorporated, turn the heat to medium and bring to a bubble whisking all the while. This will thicken your sauce.

Once your sauce is thickened, remove from the heat. Immediately whisk in one cup of shredded cheese and one cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.

Sample your sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the tuna to the noodles. Stir to break up any big chunks. Make sure to use solid tuna- the chunk stuff is gross. The husband was on a tuna kick a while back and I made the mistake of buying a whole mess of chunk tuna 'cause it was on sale. Don't be like me! I ate gross tuna sandwiches for months trying to use up that junk.

Add the cheese sauce and stir to coat all the noodles and tuna. Add the spinach and put the lid for 5-10 minutes on so that the residual heat from the noodles and sauce will wilt the leaves a bit.

Dump the tuna noodle goodness into a 9x13 baking dish. You could grease it, if you're anal like that, but I don't. I'm a wild woman.

Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. If you're noticing a lack of browned noodles in the above pictures, it's because I ate them all. They are the best part!

Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 lb. pasta
3 cans of solid tuna, drained
16 oz. baby spinach
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
1 cup shredded cheese, any blend/kind you like
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 350. Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and leave in hot pan off the stove. Add the drained tuna to the pasta and stir to break up the chunks.

In a medium sauce pan over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk to blend. Make sure to get rid of any lumps. Cook this mixture 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and whisk to combine. Bring the heat up to medium and bring the sauce to a bubble. Let it thicken- 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Add the sauce to the tuna and noodles. Add the spinach. Stir to thoroughly coat all ingredients and place lid on the pan to wilt the spinach- about 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.